I stared at the faint, gauzy, illusory face floating in the air in front of me. I should have been scared, but astonishment pushed all other emotions aside for the moment.
“No way,” I gasped out, my words barely a whisper.
The face grew, sliding right out of the wall, moving through it as if it was no more solid than smoke. It grew into a small figure, with glowing strands of long brown hair cascading down over her shoulders, spilling over the short sleeves of a white dress, with a thick red ribbon tied around her waist. She floated out, a foot or two above the ground, out until her bare feet finally drifted clear of the wall.
Once emerged, she flitted back and forth, moving through the air like the koi swam through the water of the pond in my uncle’s back yard. She didn’t seem to notice me at all, instead rising up higher into the air, zooming gently past the shelves of books, her ghostly, semi-translucent fingers stretched out to run lightly across the novels’ spines.
Standing below her, I watched her flit back and forth. The initial burst of fear, muted beneath the astonishment but still present, faded further away as I observed. She didn’t seem nearly as scary as I might have imagined that a ghost would be, even the ghost of a little girl.
A part of me, of course, kept on stubbornly insisting that ghosts weren’t real. There are no such things as ghosts. But the evidence in front of my own eyes seemed pretty conclusive, and a pinch to my arm failed to stir me from the sight in front of me.
Could she see me, hear me, tell that I was there? Trying to think, I took a step back – and immediately caught my heel on the carpet, and sat down hard on my butt with a thud.
The thump’s effect on the ghostly girl was immediate. She spun in the air, her eyes wide as they stared down at me. Blue eyes, I saw. Pale blue, almost the color of ice chips.
She swooped down at me, and I cried out in involuntary horror as I lifted a hand to block her. She came to an abrupt stop above me, less than a foot from me as I lay on my butt and feet on the floor, propped up by my other hand. Those big, wide eyes peered down at me. She tilted her head back and forth, slightly, like a dog that couldn’t make sense of a new command.
I licked suddenly dry lips. “Hi,” I managed to get out, although it sounded like barely more than a croak.
She blinked at me, the movement so sudden that I jumped and twitched a little. She still didn’t speak.
“Er, I’m Sam,” I said, a little strengthened by the sound of my own voice. “I – my uncle lives here, and I stay with him during the summers. What’s your name?”
She blinked again, slowly drifting up through the air. She was no longer leaning down over me, now, but instead once again floating upright, about a foot off the ground. She swooped away, towards the bookshelves – but then glanced back at me and, a slight frown creasing her features, returned closer once again.
I climbed unsteadily back to my feet. This time, I followed cautiously after her when she swooped away in the same direction. Her smile told me that I’d done what she wanted.
Her fingers reached out, lingering on a book. “Emma,” I read from the spine. “Is that your name? Emma?”
She smiled, and her whole face seemed to light up, the glow from her translucent skin increasing. She swooped again, flying up into the air to do a little loop before drifting back down to hover in front of me.
I laughed. I couldn’t help it; the delight just bubbled up in my throat, needed to come out. She tossed her hair, silently laughed along with me. She swooped again, this time around the room, and I dashed after her.
She had to be about my age, I guessed. She looked young, her body not yet possessing the curves of a full woman. She darted back and forth, first higher, than lower, her hands drifting over the titles of the books.
“So,” I finally spoke, once I’d collapsed onto one of the chairs in an attempt to rest and regain my breath. “Why are you here, Emma?”
She drifted down in front of me, leaning forward with her hands on her cheeks and elbows forward, as if resting on an invisible floor, three feet in the air. Her face grew serious as she looked at me, her shoulders rising in a shrug. Either she didn’t know, or she couldn’t answer it without the use of words.
“Can you go outside of the library?”
A shake of her head. Maybe this was why my uncle didn’t want me coming in here. But what was the harm of it? Emma didn’t seem unfriendly. Did he not want me to realize that ghosts existed?
“Does my uncle ever come in here?”
A pause, and then an uncertain shake of her head. Maybe she didn’t remember?
“How old are you, Emma?”
That one made her frown. She held up ten fingers, and then one more. Eleven. But then she paused, looking down at – no, through – her hand, and her face grew sadder. Maybe she knew that she was dead, and that she’d never be older than eleven.
After a second, however, just as I was about to say something, her face brightened again. She popped back up to her feet, bobbing in the air, and her finger beckoned me. Curious, I stood up and followed her over to the shelves.
Emma floated in front of the books, reaching out to run her finger along the spines. I watched, my mouth falling open, as the books themselves started to glow! She reached in, and they floated apart, revealing a bright yellow, warm glow coming from behind them, obscuring any sight of the shelf behind them.
“What is it?” I asked, feeling the urge to reach out and touch the glow with my hand.
Emma laughed at me, silent laughter, and then ducked into the glow. The books had drifted further out, hanging in the air, and the bright yellow glow was big enough for a small person – or a child – to enter. She ducked into it, vanishing into the brightness.
I stood there for another minute, until her head popped out. She raised her eyebrows, and she didn’t need words for me to know that she was asking if I was coming or not.
I glanced back at the door leading out to the rest of the house, still standing ajar. What should I do? But she seemed so nice, so friendly, and she clearly wanted to show me something. Should I really be so scared?
I stepped forward, feeling the glow swallow me.
It faded a few seconds later, leaving the library empty. For a few seconds, the room was still.
And then, once again, Emma ducked out of the wall. She drifted across the room to the door that led out to the hallway. Frowning with concentration, she reached out – and her fingers, instead of brushing through the handle, wrapped around it and pulled the door shut. A second later, the lock engaged with a click.
Emma’s smile bloomed back on her face, and she spun once more around the room. The glow reappeared in the books, and she ducked inside, eager to play with her new friend.